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This Week in Clean Economy: West Coast 'Green' Jobs Data Shows Promise

New report finds that California, Oregon, Washington and B.C. could triple the number of clean economy jobs to 1.5 million, with synchronized policies.

Mar 16, 2012
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger walks between solar panels after at

A group of West Coast leaders has made its first attempt to quantify how many jobs have been spurred by the clean economy, a sector that includes engineers who design solar, wind and efficiency technologies and the electricians who install them—as well as train conductors, recycling collectors and organic farmers.

On Tuesday, the Pacific Coast Collaborative unveiled the results of a study it commissioned that found the region supports 508,000 clean economy jobs, or about three percent of the regional workforce. The group includes government leaders from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The report is an effort to show private industries and public sectors that clean economy investments and policies are paying off.

Federal and state support of the clean economy has come under unrelenting scrutiny in the wake of the failure of Solyndra, the taxpayer-backed solar firm that went bankrupt and fired 1,100 workers.This week, Republicans in Congress started to demand data on the number of jobs that can be credited to federal green incentives as they consider whether to renew the policies.

Speaking at the launch of the Pacific Coast report in Vancouver, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said the new regional data offers "proof that our actions are already working."

"Now we want to go even faster," she said.

The consultants hired to do the study—GLOBE Advisors, a Vancouver consultancy, and the Center for Climate Strategies, a policy group based in Washington, D.C.—concluded that the three states and British Columbia could triple the number of clean economy jobs to 1.5 million by 2020, if they synchronize renewable power and clean car mandates and green building codes, and pour similar higher levels of investment into the sector. Today, the four governments have "a patchwork of policies and incentives programs, many of which are short term or sporadic in nature," said Paul Shorthouse, co-author of the report and director of special projects for GLOBE Group, the parent company of GLOBE Advisors.

The study, the "West Coast Clean Economy," took five months to complete. The researchers consulted with governments on their clean economy policies, gathered hard data on industries and jobs from companies and earlier studies, and modeled potential scenarios for leaders to stimulate job creation across five green sectors. The sectors are: environmental protection and resource management, energy efficiency and green building, clean transportation, clean energy supply, and knowledge and support, which includes green job training programs.

The study revealed that the clean economy accounts for about $47 billion of goods and services produced in the participating jurisdictions, or 2 percent of their total GDP. That sum could increase nearly threefold to more than $140 billion by 2020.

California came out on top in the report, due mainly to its large population. The state attracted 85 percent of green investments that flowed into the region and boasted more than 60 percent of the clean economy jobs. Washington ranked second on jobs, accounting for 16 percent of the positions, while British Columbia and Oregon had about 12 percent and 11 percent of jobs, respectively.

Methods for calculating clean economy jobs are still being debated among economists. In the United States, newer analyses usually rely on the green jobs definition developed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010. The agency counts more than 330 green industries out of nearly 1,200 total U.S. industries.

In 2011, the Brookings Institution, a policy research organization, released the first comprehensive survey of the nature and size of the national clean economy using the bureau's definition. The study found that 2.7 million Americans were employed in clean economy industries in 2010. California, Oregon and Washington accounted for 17 percent of all clean economy employment, it showed, or 461,000 jobs. Overall, the 13-state U.S. West had the largest share of jobs relative to its population compared to other regions.

The Pacific Coast study used the same approach as Brookings, with slight differences. Unlike Brookings, the authors included rail and natural-gas vehicle industries, as well as companies that design and build walking and bicycle paths. Further, the Pacific Coast study doesn't include jobs in nuclear energy or green chemical industries.

Despite those differences, both reports found that most clean economy jobs today are not in clean energy, but in non-energy related environmental sectors, such as recycling, pollution mitigation, organic farming and sustainable forestry. The Pacific Coast study said that 60 percent of jobs are in those areas.

The second largest job-creation engine, the authors said, was in energy efficiency and green building, representing 16 percent of clean economy jobs. The region employs about 80,800 people who design and install energy-saving lighting and appliances, perform efficiency upgrades or construct greener buildings. Such businesses have the most potential for growth, the study found—the number of jobs in those fields could increase to 443,000 positions within a decade.

Clean transportation came in third, accounting for about 12 percent of jobs. Clean energy businesses—including renewable energy developers and installers, and smart grid companies—accounted for 11 percent. The remaining positions, about 3.5 percent of the total, were in career development centers, green job training programs or on public awareness campaigns.

The report noted that solar, wind and biomass sectors produce more jobs than fossil fuel industries across the supply chain. Using data from previous studies, the researchers said that a solar photovoltaic plant creates about 7 to 11 jobs per megawatt of capacity during the facility's lifetime, whereas coal and natural gas plants create roughly one job per megawatt.

Whether the region hits the million-job mark in the near future depends on a few factors, the authors said. Government leaders will have to pass more aggressive policies that encourage adoption of both clean electricity and electric cars. They will also have to harmonize building codes so architects and builders can build to the same standards, cutting burdensome red tape and costs. Another essential: to develop joint green job training programs so workers can easily qualify for employment wherever demand is high.

Shorthouse told InsideClimate News that the key is for leaders to make a clear and steady commitment to the clean economy. The report dispels earlier notions by some advocates that green jobs would crop up rapidly and "revolutionize" the economy, he said in an interview from Vancouver.

The clean economy "is not going to happen overnight. But these initiatives are well underway," he said.

On Our Radar for Next Week: Renewables Incentives, China-U.S. Solar Rift

This week's failed attempt to extend expiring renewable energy tax credits in the Senate transportation bill isn't deterring Congressional advocates. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said he'll try to attach an extension of the popular production tax credit for wind developers to the House jobs bill, which passed last week—when or if the Senate takes it up, the National Journal reported.

The solar rift between China and the United States could heat up even more next week. The U.S. Department of Commerce on Monday is expected to announce a preliminary decision on a trade petition filed by seven American solar panel manufacturers. The firms accuse the Chinese government of doling out exorbitant subsidies on China-made solar cells and modules, making it impossible for them to compete at home. The verdict could impose hefty fines on Chinese imports.

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